The oldest languages in the world, still spoken today
Languages have always been the “fiber” of humanity. The cornerstone of human society, and the force that paved the way for civilization. Without it, societies could not develop as they have. So languages are “testament” to the great need of our species to move forward.
Of course, they are a fluid force, always evolving, due to time and external influences. Even today, languages disappear and reappear, in new and different forms. But what are the oldest languages in the world that are still spoken today?
The Basque language, or Euskara as it is known by its speakers, is truly an amazing and unique language in Europe. It is spoken today in the Basque region of Spain by about 750,000 native speakers and about 1,185,000 other speakers who do not have their own language of origin.
The Basque region is home to the Basque people, an area that lies between the border between Spain and France, centered around the Bay of Biscay. The Basque language has nothing to do with neighboring languages. An interesting theory links Basque to the languages of the Caucasus Mountains, such as the Chechen and Georgian languages, which are also unique.
Indigenous to the South Caucasus Mountains region, the Kartvelian languages are undoubtedly among the oldest in the world, and still spoken. Here the Georgian, Svan, Zan, Mingrelian and Laz languages are introduced. The geographic isolation of the tribes that lived here allowed the undisturbed development of the unique societies that would later rule the region.
The Georgian language has its earliest written form dating back to 430 AD. But the language itself is certainly much older. This language family is not related to any other in the world, and has about 5.2 million speakers worldwide.
The Tamil language is a part of the Dravidian languages, and is spoken by the Tamil ethnic community, which resides in the southernmost part of the Indian subcontinent. It is also one of the oldest languages in the world still spoken today.
In the Indian state of Nadu, Tamil is the official language. It has no “genetic” connection with the dominant Hindi language in India. It is spoken by about 75 million Tamils, spread all over the world. Its earliest written form dates back to 300 BC.
They belong to the remote tribes of Siberia and the Far East in Russia. These include the Ket, Chukotko-Kamchatkan, Nivk and Hukagir languages. On the other hand, they consist of many regional forms and dialects. It is certain that these languages precede the languages that are dominant today in present-day Siberia, such as the Russian, Tungusic and Turkish languages. These nomadic tribes never developed a written system of their languages.
It is the language of the Ainu ethnic community in Northern Japan, and unrelated to the modern Japanese people, who settled on these islands. Ainu is an isolated language, unrelated to Japanese. There are some small connections of it with Paleo-Siberian languages. The Ainu people and their language are now endangered, as they exhibit distinct genetic and cultural traits compared to the Japanese.
It belongs to the group of Semitic languages, and is among the oldest still in use. Some inscriptions in Arabic date from 125 AD. It is an excellent example that as a language of a powerful conquering nation, it may settle over a wide area, and survive for centuries in its original form.
This language boasts nearly 3,100 years of written history. It was originally the language of the Aramaic tribe, which spread to the regions of the Levant, Syria and Mesopotamia in the Middle East, and which had established a kingdom since about 1000 BC. Even in ancient times, it was used as a royal language in some of the world’s oldest courts.
The Chinese language is very old, and one of the most unique in the world. It is very complex – both in writing and speaking – and its writing system can consist of up to 100,000 different symbols. The earliest written form of Chinese dates back to 1250 BC.
Persian, also known as Farsi, is a very old Indo-European language, belonging to the Indo-Iranian subdivision. It is spoken by about 70 million people worldwide. It is traced in written form as far back as the 6th century BC, but its history is older. Old Persian was the language of the Achaemenid Empire, which existed between 550-330 BC, and later the Sasanian Empire. The oldest writing dates from the reign of Darius I.
Irish Gaelic language
It is the Irish branch of the Goidelic languages, part of the Celtic family of Indo-European languages. The earliest writings in this language in Ireland date from the 4th century AD. After several centuries of brutal suppression by the English invaders, this language is experiencing a revival today.